Gate Night Mischief at Hibben’s

When I grew up in Winnipeg, the night before Hallowe’en was customarily known as “gate night,” when bands of teenagers too old for trick-or-treating went around egging houses, streaming rolls of toilet paper through trees, putting all sorts of disgusting things in mail boxes, and in general behaving in ways that were sure to charm the neighbourhood.

I never learned why a night featuring pranks was called “gate night,” and I’d forgotten all about it until I read this notice today about Hallowe’en mischief at Hibben’s book store in 1898:

(Daily Colonist, November 6, 1898, p. 5)

It seems that “gate night” was a thing in Victorian Victoria too, only they meant it literally.

On Hallowe’en, citizens weren’t on the lookout for cute little kids coming through the gate for candy as much as for gangs of “roughs” who actually came for the gates, or fences—whatever they could get their hands on:

(Daily Colonist, November 3, 1900, p. 6)

Similar reports from Vancouver, New Westminster, and other BC communities show that the pranking could get pretty carried away:

(Vancouver Daily World, November 2, 1888, p. 1)

Happy Hallowe’en!




Going Inside T.N. Hibben & Co.

Picking up from my last post about the fantastic photo of Vancouver’s Clarke & Stuart, here’s one that takes us inside a 19th-century bookstore: T.N. Hibben & Co. of Victoria.

The interior of T.N. Hibben & Co., Victoria (Royal BC Museum and Archives, G-02974).

Here we can see all the wonderful books lining the walls (floor to ceiling, at least on the right) and displayed down the middle. I feel like I can almost smell their leather bindings.

Stationery and blank books, some of which we can see at the front right, were important parts of the business, as were items like photographs, maps, typewriters and office equipment, toys, and sporting goods, like the racquets hanging on the left.

Although the Royal BC Museum and Archives dates this photo as ca. 1891, I believe it was taken before January 1890, because that is when founder Thomas Napier Hibben died, and the man on the front right looks an awful lot like Hibben in the portrait below, with his distinctive white beard either side of an exposed chin.

Thomas Napier Hibben, ca. 1860 (Royal BC Museum and Archives, F-02887).



Christmas at the Nineteenth-Century Bookstore

In Book of Small, her memoir about her childhood in Victoria, Emily Carr recalls the red cardboard sign that Thomas Napier Hibben hung in his bookstore’s window each December, its “Merry Christmas” message written with cotton wool.

In nineteenth-century Victoria (as now, judging by the lineup at my local bookstore the other day), Christmas shoppers flocked to bookstores for gifts. In addition to books, they were drawn to all the fancy goods and “requisites necessary in a first class stationery store,” as the following article describes:

(Colonist, December 8, 1886, p. 3)

Among the attractions were a fairly new item at the time: Christmas cards. The Prang cards mentioned above were those of Louis Prang, the Boston-based printer who is credited as the father of the American Christmas card when he became the first American publisher of Christmas cards in 1875.

Diaries for the upcoming year were another popular, heavily advertised Christmas gift item. Selections numbered in the dozens, with many bound in fine leather, edged in gilt, sized for a pocket, and complete with additional compartments for bills and calling cards.

(Colonist, December 18, 1878, p. 2)

(Feature image for this blog post on the home page is from, Christmas card, L. Prang and Co., 1876. PR 31, Bella C. Landauer Collection)


New Westminster

George Clarkson of Clarkson & Co., New Westminster Bookseller

After Seth Tilley sold his Colonial Bookstore in New Westminster to Victoria’s Hibben & Carswell in 1863, they took on a local partner named George Cubitt Clarkson, who operated the store as Clarkson & Co.

Born in Ontario

Born in 1843 in Ontario (or Upper Canada, as it was then called), George was the eldest child and only living son of William and Jane Clarkson. William was quite a well-known pioneer in New Westminster, arriving in 1858, with his family following shortly thereafter.

William and Jane Clarkson, with their children (l-r) Mary, Hannah, George, Sarah, and Kate, ca. early 1860s (New Westminster Archives, IHP0856)

William became the first president of New West’s municipal council in 1864 (he is sometimes called the city’s first mayor), and he remained politically involved throughout his life. He also ran the New Westminster House (a boarding house), acted as a real estate agent, owned an apple tree nursery, and amassed significant land holdings. Clarkson Street in New Westminster is named for the family.

A Five-Year Bookselling Career

George was twenty when he became a bookseller, and he reportedly did very well. He carried on the Columbia Street store much as Tilley had, advertising a large range of books, stationery, newspapers and periodicals, maps, musical instruments, toys and games, and other goods.

In March 1868, George added a circulating library to his store, and on June 10 that same year, the British Columbian applauded him for the “business energy and push” that had increased the circulation “of useful periodical literature throughout the mainland to double what it has been heretofore.”

The partnership between George Clarkson and T.N. Hibben & Co. was dissolved on June 20, 1868. At first George carried on Clarkson & Co. on his own, but by October, he had a new partner in his brother-in-law, John Stillwell Clute, who had married George’s sister Sarah in 1866.

Clute & Clarkson sold much more than books and stationery, operating more as a general store. Charles Major (another of George’s brothers-in-law, married to Mary Clarkson in 1867) joined the partnership too.

Called to the Church
George Clarkson, ca. 1872 (Chilliwack Museum and Archives, PP500453)

In 1870, George left business life when “the bent of his mind led him to adopt the church as his mission,” as his later obituary put it. He went to Ontario to attend Victoria College, where he prepared to enter the ministry. He also married during this time.

When George and his new wife returned to British Columbia, he served as a Wesleyan Methodist missionary in Chilliwack and Sumas. Now known as Reverend Clarkson, he remained in Chilliwack for two years.

The End of a Short Life

Voting records for 1874 and 1875 list George as a “trader,” so presumably he left the ministry and returned to New Westminster. In 1877, he was appointed as a customs collector in Burrard Inlet. He would not hold the position for long.

On May 15, 1877, George died of paralysis (likely meaning a stroke) at the age of thirty-three. “His upright and kindly disposition had implanted…great respect and regard in a large circle of acquaintance, by whom his loss will be surely regretted,” his obituary in the British Columbian read. “For his bereaved family and young widow, we know that the strongest sympathy is everywhere felt. Mr. Clarkson leaves no children.”


Libraries · Victoria

Mary Stewart: “Knew More about Books than Anyone Else in Victoria”

In the 1890s, T.N. Hibben & Co. was the place to meet in Victoria. “On a Saturday afternoon, or in the evenings, when the stores were open, you were sure to meet just about everyone you knew waiting for somebody else in Hibben’s store, poking among the books and passing the time of day with other people who were waiting for the people who were always late,” wrote James Nesbitt in his popular column “Old Homes and Families” in the Colonist (1).

“It was a friendly store, filled with books and the latest in stationery,” Nesbitt continued, then mentioned the constant presence of Thomas Napier Hibben (son and namesake of the founder), his brother, Parker, and William Bone, a partner in the business.

“And there was also Miss Mamie Stewart, whom everyone said knew more about books than anyone else in Victoria.”

“And there was also Miss Mamie Stewart, whom everyone said knew more about books than anyone else in Victoria.”

This grabbed my attention, as I hadn’t come across Mamie Stewart’s name before in connection with Hibben’s.

Nesbitt’s article said Stewart had eventually left Hibben’s for a job at the Victoria Public Library. “Everyone missed her, and said Hibben’s was never quite the same.”

Who was this Mamie Stewart? In my research of BC bookselling history, I so seldom come across the names of women (an unfortunate reality of the times) that I felt extra-motivated to find out.

Childhood and St. Ann’s Academy: “Such Is the Way to the Stars”

Mamie Stewart, or Mary Elizabeth, her given name, was born in Victoria in 1870 to John and Margaret (McCoy) Stewart. John was a brass founder originally from Dundee, Scotland, while Margaret’s roots were in Ireland (2). Prior to arriving in Victoria in 1862, John spent five years in Lima, Peru (3). The family also included two sons, John Walter and Arthur Bernard, both younger than Mary.

As a girl, Stewart attended St. Ann’s Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Victoria (4). “The school motto of St. Ann’s Academy was SIC ITUR AD ASTRA, which translates to ‘Such is the way to the stars’,” reads the history section of the school’s website. “Over and over again, the former students and teachers from the Academy spoke of the high expectations of the pupils there, and how this confidence in their abilities led them to achievements.”

The years she spent at St. Ann’s presumably instilled in Stewart her knowledge of and appreciation for literature.

T.N. Hibben & Co.

In 1894, Stewart worked as a clerk at C.A. Lombard & Co. (5). The music store was located at 61 Government Street, just a few doors down from T.N. Hibben & Co., at 69-71 Government, presumably giving Stewart lots of opportunity to stop into the bookstore and get to know its proprietors.

By 1897, Stewart was employed as a clerk at Hibben’s (6). She remained with the company until at least 1905 (7), during which time she gained her reputation as knowing “more about books than anyone else in Victoria.”

Victoria Public Library

As reported in the Nesbitt article, Stewart left Hibben’s for a position at Victoria Public Library, making the move sometime between 1905 and 1909 (8).

By this time, Mary’s father John had died of heart disease. Reporting his death, the Daily Colonist called him “a highly respected and well known resident of this city” (9).

At the library, Mary Stewart’s knowledge of books and way with people stood out, just as they did while she was at Hibben’s. In a 1914 report about the library’s rising circulation, the Daily Colonist gave Stewart much credit:

“The kindness and courtesy of Miss Mary Stewart, the manager of the circulation department of the library, makes the task of exchanging books a real pleasure to most people. There are many readers who must depend on the manager of this department for information and advice, and Miss Stewart is exceptionally well qualified to give both. To readers and book-lovers in Victoria she is an old friend, and she has added to her early training an earnest study of modern library methods. In Miss Stewart the head librarian has a very efficient and loyal co-worker, and the patrons of the library one of the kindest and most courteous, as well as most efficient, of public servants” (10).

“To readers and book-lovers in Victoria, [Mary Stewart] is an old friend.”

Mary Stewart (at centre behind desk) as circulation manager at the Victoria Public Library, ca. 1915 (Royal BC Museum and Archives, D-07481).

Mary Stewart is not to be confused with the other Stewart of Victoria’s early library history: Helen Gordon Stewart, who served as head librarian from 1912 to 1924.

Helen’s enormous contributions to the development of libraries and librarianship in BC are too numerous to mention here, but Mary made an impression on even this illustrious figure. In an interview Helen gave about her library career, she referred to Mary as “a fine a person as ever there was. I think she knew every person who came into [the library]” (11). Mary served as acting librarian a number of times when Helen was away.

Mary retired from the Victoria Public Library in 1936. After a lifetime of contributing to Victoria’s reading culture, she died at the age of seventy-four on November 11, 1944 (12).



(1) James Nesbitt, “Old Homes and Families,” Colonist (January 10, 1954): 1.

(2) 1901 Canadian census.

(3) “Pioneer Passes Away,” Daily Colonist (April 25, 1907): 6.

(4) “Lived Here 74 Years,” Daily Colonist (December 1, 1944).

(5) Williams Office British Columbia Directory, 1894.

(6) Henderson’s BC Gazetteer and Directory, 1897.

(7) Henderson’s BC Gazetteer and Directory, 1905.

(8) Directory of Vancouver Island and Adjacent Islands, 1909.

(9) “Pioneer Passes Away.”

(10) “Library Circulation,” Daily Colonist (February 7, 1914).

(11) “Interview with Dr. Helen Gordon Stewart,” in As We Remember It, edited by Marion Gilroy and Samuel Rothstein (Vancouver: University of British Columbia School of Librarianship, 1970), 21.

(12) “Lived Here 74 Years,” Daily Colonist (December 1, 1944).



The Irrepressible James Carswell of Hibben & Carswell, Victoria

I just received this image of James Carswell, Thomas Hibben’s early bookselling partner in Victoria, from the Royal BC Museum and Archives. Newly digitized from a plate glass negative, it is the only one I have found so far of James. I felt a rush at finally seeing the face of someone from the distant past who I feel I’ve gotten to know, at least a bit, through my research of BC’s early booksellers.

James Carswell of Victoria bookseller Hibben and Carswell, 1858 (image G-05397 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives)

One of the stories that told me the most about James’s personality was an episode that started on May 27, 1865, when a notice appeared in the Daily British Colonist offering a reward for James, who had evidently gone missing on May 24.

He was still missing on May 29, when the newspaper covered the story of his disappearance in a long column.

“The search for this unfortunate gentleman is being prosecuted with the utmost vigor, several parties having left the city by both land and water for the spot,” the article read.

“The bush for some distance around the spot where Mr. Carswell was last seen was again pierced through and through yesterday by the party…but not the faintest clue could be found upon which to base any conjecture as to what had befallen the unhappy man. It is the opinion of men accustomed to the brush that Mr. Carswell could not have lost himself in the section of country where he is supposed to have strayed without some mark or trace being found to show where he had passed, and a faint hope is therefore not unreasonably entertained that he may still be alive.”

“A faint hope is…entertained that he may still be alive.”

By May 30, the reward had increased to $1,000, a huge sum at the time.

And then, hurrah, came the headline on May 31: “Mr. Carswell Found!” What’s more, he was reportedly in good condition and spirits.

It seems James had taken a wrong turn on the Sooke trail he had been following after leaving a steamer at Robertson’s Landing. He had “endeavored to save time by making a short cut through the woods, but had not gone far before he found himself bewildered in the thick underbrush.”

When dusk fell, he managed to build a fire and make a bed out of fir boughs that he cut down with a pocket knife. The next day he tried again to find his way, but once again darkness forced him to set up a camp for the night. “His matches having given out, this night he suffered very much from cold.” He found plenty of water in the woods, but only a bit of chewing tobacco in his pocket kept his hunger at bay.

The next two days were more of the same. He periodically heard the shouts of the search party and tried to answer, only to become “completely baffled by the echoing of the reports through the forest.”

By now feeling “feeble and dispirited” and very hungry, he persevered for yet another day, but to no avail. “As evening approached his spirits sank, and he began to fear that his escape from this horrible position was hopeless. He accordingly with great presence of mind took a white pocket handkerchief and wrote on it some directions as to his affairs, and then raising his umbrella, which he always carried with him, he fixed it over his head so as to present a conspicuous mark, and lay down to what he must have thought was his last sleep.”

There he remained, dozing fitfully, for the next 36 hours. Waking up “considerably refreshed,” he tried yet again to make his way out of the thick forest. At last, this time he found the trail, and it wasn’t long after that when he came across some members of the search party.

In Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria, Edgar Fawcett recounted what happened next. When the searchers told James that they were glad to have found him, he replied, “‘Found me! Why, I am on my way home!'” When James learned that his partner Thomas Hibben had put up a reward for his discovery, “Mr. Carswell objected to pay,” wrote Fawcett, “protesting that [the search party] had not found him, but that he had found himself, and was on his way home when they met him. It caused a great deal of merriment, and was a standing joke for some time.”


Thomas Napier Hibben Starts One of Victoria’s Longest-Running Bookstores

When Thomas Napier Hibben opened his bookstore in Victoria in October 1858 (buying out William Kierski’s establishment on Yates Street), he likely could not have imagined that he was starting one of the longest-running bookstores in Victoria’s history.

Thomas Napier Hibben was a partner in the Noisy Carriers’ Book & Stationery Company of San Francisco prior to becoming the dominant bookseller in Victoria. (Horace Bushnell, California: Its Characteristics and Prospects, 1858)

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1827, Hibben had already amassed several years’ experience as a bookseller in San Francisco by the time he set up shop in Victoria. Hibben had been among the other “forty-niners” drawn by the California gold rush in 1849, but after trying his hand as a prospector, he had turned to the book trade (a story similar to that of early New Westminster and Vancouver bookseller Seth Tilley) (1).

Unlike his predecessor, William Kierski, or his remaining competitor in the Victoria book trade in 1858, W. F. Herre, Hibben actively marketed his new business, placing ads in almost every edition of the Victoria Gazette and later the Daily Colonist. (Perhaps his stint at San Francisco’s so-called Noisy Carrier had taught him a thing or two about promotions!)

A typical ad for T.N. Hibben in late 1858 and early 1859. (Victoria Gazette, December 25, 1858)

At first, Hibben called his store the Express Bookstore, a reference, perhaps, to his location next door to the express company Freeman & Co. But in 1859, the business’s name appears as Hibben & Carswell in recognition of partner James Carswell.

On July 20 of that year, Hibben & Carswell announced their presence in a new brick store they called Stationer’s Hall. Their ad is also an impressive call to buy books. Of all the ads I have seen in my research of BC bookstores thus far, this has to be my favourite.

Hibben & Carswell’s ad in the July 20, 1859, issue of the Daily Colonist.


(1) British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present: Biographical, vol. III (Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914), 694.


William Kierski: First Bookseller in Victoria

“The first bookstore in Victoria was Kierski’s,” wrote Glennis Zilm in her 1981 thesis about the history of trade book publishing in BC in the nineteenth century (1). “Little is known about Kierski’s,” she added, and with that, Kierski’s story seems to have rested in silence ever since.

And little wonder. Unearthing anything about Kierski has been a bit tricky, even in this Google age.

In her thesis, Zilm included an image taken from an 1858 issue of the Victoria Gazette in which Kierski’s first initial is shown as “L.” But flipping through the original pages of the Gazette at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections (a marvellous experience that I highly recommend), I discovered that his initial appears as a “W” in all later instances. Hmmm.

The Victoria Gazette of August 3, 1858, shows Kierski’s first initial as “W.” Previous issues show him as L. Kierski. (UBC Rare Books and Special Collections; Lana Okerlund photograph)
Kierski’s ad in the September 3, 1858, issue of the Victoria Gazette. (UBC Rare Books and Special Collections; Lana Okerlund photograph)

With the “Wm.” to work from (see the above ad), presumably short for “William,” I started googling and trying every source I could think of. Soon I found evidence of Kierski & Brother, booksellers and stationers in San Joaquin County, California, around the same period. It couldn’t be a coincidence, I thought.

Kierski &  Brother, I then learned, were William and John S. Kierski, immigrants of Prussia who started their American lives in New York before setting up shop in Stockton, California, in about 1856 (2).

No mention of a stint in Victoria, though.

Fast-forward over months of periodic yet unsuccessful searches for more information, and a grainy online image from an October 1858 issue of the San Joaquin Republican finally provided the missing link. William Kierski’s time in Victoria had been brief (about four months), but there is no doubt that the Stockton bookseller is the same person as the first bookstore owner in Victoria:

The article in the San Joaquin Republican proving that the Stockton Kierski and the Victoria Kierski are one and the same. (San Joaquin Republican, October 23, 1858, p. 2)

“BACK AGAIN,” the article reads. “Our old neighbor, Mr. Wm. Kierski, has returned from Fraser river, or rather Victoria, where he has been engaged in business for some months. He went at the right time, and has done a good business as a newspaper dealer, and what is more, had wit enough to sell and return at the right time. Mr. Kierski brings some eight or ten ounces of the different varieties of gold dug from Hill’s, [unclear] and Murderer’s Bars. The specimens are [unclear], though not as bright as the gold dug upon the lower bars in this State. He intends to return when he learns of the discovery of dry diggings and [coarse?] gold. The only specimens of the latter that he has seen in that country are the [unclear] stamped with an American eagle.”

The sale referred to above of Kierski’s Victoria business was to T.N. Hibben, whom the Victoria Gazette announced as the successor to W. Kierski on October 9, 1858. The San Joaquin Republican may have felt that their man Kierski was wise to get out of Victoria when he did, but Thomas Napier Hibben would go on to become the premier bookseller in British Columbia for the next several decades.

Meanwhile, William and John Kierski remained in the book and stationery business in Stockton until at least 1875, judging by ads in the San Joaquin Republican. They also published a number of maps, such as Map of the City of Stockton and Environs in 1861 and A Map of the Seat of the War in Europe in 1866 (3). There is no evidence to suggest that either of them ever returned to Victoria for those “dry diggings.” John died in 1894 (4) and William in 1903 (5).


(1) Glennis Zilm, “An Overview of Trade Book Publishing in British Columbia in the 1800s with Checklists and Selected Bibliography related to British Columbiana” (master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1981), 59.

(2) Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002), 349.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Obituary in San Francisco Chronicle (May 30, 1894): 10.

(5) Obituary in San Francisco Chronicle (July 23, 1903): 10.

Stationery and novelties

Valentines! Valentines!

(Canadian Illustrated News, February 1864)

Not unlike the bookstores of today, booksellers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries supplemented their book, magazine, and newspaper offerings with a wide assortment of stationery and “fancy goods,” such as leather products, toys, home decor items, novelties, giftware, and greeting cards.

In the last category, Valentine’s Day presented a major opportunity to attract customers into the store. Booksellers’ ads competed with each other in local papers, typically exclaiming something like “Valentines! Valentines! Time is drawing near!” and often emphasizing the “chaste” and “tasteful” nature of their selections. Some offered poems as a way of standing out:

Valentine poem from T.N. Hibben & Co.
A Valentine poem from Victoria bookseller T.N. Hibben & Co. in the Daily British Colonist, February 4, 1880.

Books and Notions, the leading industry periodical for the Canadian book trade in the mid-1880s to mid-1890s, regularly dispensed advice about when and how booksellers and stationers should display cards—a few days before, not after, the holiday, and “the design which has not before been seen will be the best appreciated” (1).

The publication also previewed the latest trends in Valentine’s Day cards, as here:

Taste has run considerably in the direction of lace goods, and the grotesque element has been largely neglected. Prices run generally in the regions of low figures, from one cent to twenty-five, although costly ones are to be had, up to $10. (2)

Dutton, the Toronto News Company, and McLoughlin Bros. were some of the greeting card companies featured in these articles, and this Books and Notions ad from McLoughlin indicates the variety of cards available:

McLoughlin Bros. ad in the December 1886 issue of Books and Notions.

A selection of Victorian-era lace Valentines, the likes of which were displayed by many of our pioneer BC book and stationery stores, can be seen in the Vintage Valentine Museum.


(1) “Advice to English Stationers,” Books and Notions (April 1885): 138.

(2) “Trade Chat,” Books and Notions (February 1890): 14.